Highlights: October 2020
Ordinarily we’d have published this on the last day of the month but hopefully you’ll forgive us for holding out until matters in France were resolved! Although it didn’t fall in Ireland’s favour, what a day it was – packed with sport from start to finish beginning in Sydney at cockcrow and ending across the world in Paris. Exempt from the latest Level 5 restrictions, professional sport is giving us all a badly needed outlet!
272 Days Later…
In an interview with newly capped Irish international Brittany Hogan in the days following her Test debut, the excitement of international rugby was clear for all to see. Along with Hogan, Ed Byrne, Will Connors, Hugo Keenan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Neve Jones and Katie O’Dwyer all made their senior Irish bows against Italy in two convincing Six Nations wins on a day that raised the spirits of everyone in lockdown.
272 days ago, Connors and Keenan would not have dreamed of their prominent involvement as Johnny Sexton and co. comprehensively overthrew the Italians. Keenan grabbed an impressive brace in a 50-17 win, while Connors also got on the scoresheet and was rewarded for an impressive display with the Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match Award.
If there was any honeymoon period, it had quickly faded by the time Ireland travelled to Paris the following week with a Championship title on the line. Going into the game knowing the permutations of ultimate success, Ireland came up short. A young French side with the mercurial spark provided by messrs. Dupont and Ntamack secured a bonus point but similarly fell shy of the required margin to oust England from pole position. Much learned and Ireland will have an immediate stepping stone to put things right via the Autumn Nations Cup.
Prevalence of Covid-19
Following a display full of passion and energy against Italy at Energia Park, Ciara Griffin and her teammates will have been undoubtedly disappointed that their final Women’s Six Nations fixture against France had to be postponed. At first rescheduled to take place in Dublin following a tremendous gesture by their opponents to help the Irish players overcome quarantine challenges, players in the French camp subsequently tested positive for coronavirus. The news came as Connacht Rugby’s impending Guinness PRO14 fixture with Zebre was also called off owing to positive tests within their Italian opponents’ squad.
While case numbers might be falling in Ireland, the postponements are a timely reminder of how precarious the situation remains on a global scale. Unfortunately, there will be more to come as all measures are taken to ensure safety of players and their families.
Zurich Irish Rugby Players’ Awards 2020
We got there! Having initially postponed our gala event which was due to take place in May, the Zurich Irish Rugby Players’ Awards was finally able to take place following the conclusion of the domestic 2019/20 season. Hosted by Joe Molloy, the special broadcast event followed the Heineken Champions Cup Final before a locked-down audience.
As ever, our sincerest thanks to Zurich for their help and support in bringing this occasion together. Thanks also to Virgin Media, Another Avenue, Wilson Hartnell and our prize sponsor Fields the Jeweller! Thanks also to Louise Galvin and Caelan Doris for helping us to announce our nominees!
Finally, congratulations to all of our winners once again!
Zurich Irish Rugby Players’ Player of the Year
Irish Women’s XVs Player of the Year
Rugby Players Ireland Hall of Fame
Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year
Try of the Year
Andrew Conway v Ospreys (Heineken Champions Cup)
Zurich Contribution to Society Award
Irish Women’s 7s Player of the Year
Irish Men’s 7s Player of the Year
All Good on the Guinness PRO14 Front!
There have been plenty of good news stories over the past number of Guinness PRO14 rounds, not least the return of Dan Leavy following 573 days out with injury. Showing no ill-effects from the long-term layoff, Leavy emerged from the Leinster bench and got to business with his customary abrasiveness, almost capping the night with a try in the final moments. As it turned out, any score would have made little difference to the fixture which was dominated by Leinster Rugby’s latest array of academy talent. In a game that saw Devin Toner (250) and Dave Kearney (150) rack up milestone appearances, Dan Sheehan took home the memories of two tries and Guinness Player of the Match.
In Limerick, a last-ditch belter of a penalty from Ben Healy saved Munster Rugby from the jaws of defeat at Scarlets. Healy went on to become a regular feature for the province thoughout October while has has also been joined in receipt of plaudits by the impressive Gavin Coombes who claimed two tries in their thrilling 38-27 defeat of Cardiff Blues.
Ulster Rugby will hope to continue their 100% record in November with wins over Benetton, Ospreys and the Dragons. South African duo Marcell Coetzee and Louis Ludik have played key roles. In Galway meanwhile, Andy Friend’s refreshing brand of rugby continues to take hold. Despite a disappointing outing against the Cardiff Blues, the westerners sit atop Conference B following a bonus point win away to Edinburgh.
World Rugby Appointments
International Rugby Players has made 14 appointments to different boards and committees at World Rugby level in a move aimed at giving players a greater voice in the game. Players were appointed on the basis of their direct rugby experience and their own developed areas of expertise. Sene Naoupu will sit on the Women’s Advisory Committee while Brian O’Driscoll will join the Board of Rugby World Cup Ltd.
Keeping the Show on the Road!
International scrum-half Kathryn Dane has been awarded a Postgraduate Scholarship under the Irish Research Council’s Government of Ireland programmes. Dane, who started in Ireland’s Six Nations victory over Italy, will investigate the gender bias in sports injury research and the resulting impact on safety in senior women’s rugby.
Dane has also been named amongst the recipients of the Trinity Sport Scholarship. A number of rising stars of the Irish game count amongst the list: Ryan Baird, Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird, Thomas Clarkson, Meabh Deely, Jack Dunne, Luis Faria, Joseph McCarthy and Liam Turner. Our congratulations to all!
Throughout 2020, Rugby Players Ireland have been working to support our partners by providing engaging client and staff entertainment events. Digital Q&As have featured various current and past players, covering topics such as their tools for managing lockdown stress and their opinions on the future of Irish Rugby. Many thanks to our members who have participated – the future of your players’ association depends on it!
It was an unprecedented month for Irish players based overseas. Former Ulster Rugby duo Gareth Steenson and Ian Whitten were both central figures as Exeter Chiefs became both English and European Champions in recent weeks. The triumphs capped a remarkable rise for Dungannon born Steenson who first moved to Exeter in 2008 when they resided in the reformatted English Championship. The Premiership final victory over Wasps also signalled his retirement from playing as he moves on a full-time basis into a coaching capacity in southwest England. Congratulations to Gareth & Ian!
Unfortunately not all Irish eyes were smiling after Exeter’s Heineken Champions Cup victory. Despite a fine individual performance, Simon Zebo was on the losing RAcing 92 side with Donnacha Ryan and Mike Prendergast (coach) also involved.
Meanwhile, Niyi Adeolokun put a difficult few months behind him as Bristol Bears won the European Challenge Cup for the first time in their history. Released by Connacht Rugby in May, Adeolokun was joined in the matchday squad by former Connacht Rugby player Jake Heenan, while Bryan Byrne and Peter McCabe were also part of the wider squad. Well done to all!
Competitive to the Last!
Our best wishes to Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien on the release of their respective autobiographies. Both books are also nominated for the Bord Gáis Energy Sports Book of the Year Award at the An Post Irish Book Awards.
Connacht Rugby men are everywhere these days! Having retired last year, Conor McKeon returned to his GAA roots and was part of the Ballyboden St Enda’s Squad that reached the Dublin Senior County Hurling Final in September. On top of managing an injury that forced him into rugby retirement, McKeon also began life as an Audit Trainee with BDO.
In the latest episode of his podcast ‘Where is My Mind?’ former Leinster Rugby player Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin chats with his former coach Matt Williams about his decision to retire from rugby due to mental health reasons and how elite sports deal with the issue.
Finally, as youwill have seen above, Gordon D’Arcy was inducted into the Rugby Players Ireland Hall of Fame. Ireland’s longest serving international player, D’Arcy was also capped by Leinster on 161 occasions whilst he also toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2005 and 2009.
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